New restrictions on the hospitality and entertainment sectors are to come into force across Wales as the first minister, Mark Drakeford, conceded it may have been a mistake not to impose stricter curbs following the country’s “firebreak” lockdown.
Cinemas, bowling alleys and other indoor entertainment venues will close again and new rules, yet to be finalised, will be introduced for the hospitality industry.
The decision to introduce restrictions for the whole country was criticised by the Tories in Wales, who argued it was unfair to penalise areas where the rates of coronavirus are small.
Representatives of the hospitality industry expressed dismay that pubs, bars and restaurants once again faced restrictions that they claim are bound to lead to job losses and some businesses shutting permanently.
Drakeford said he could not rule out further measures before and after Christmas but that for now non-essential shops, hairdressers, gyms and leisure centres would be allowed to remain open.
The first minister insisted the 17-day firebreak, which began in October, reduced Covid infection rates, but there has since been a steady rise, especially among the under-25s, and the R number could be as high as 1.4. He said the NHS in Wales was under “sustained pressure” and more than 1,700 people with coronavirus were being treated in hospital.
Drakeford said: “The problem is that post the firebreak period, as people have mixed, it has come back faster and further than we anticipated. It may have been that had we had stricter restrictions coming out of the firebreak that might have made a difference.”
Andrew RT Davies, the Conservative health spokesman in the Senedd, criticised the move. “A blanket nationwide approach is unnecessary and unfair,” he said.
Simon Wright, a founder of the Welsh Independent Restaurant Collective, said: “We’d hoped the firebreak would give us a run to Christmas. This is going to make it very difficult for thousands of people again.”
In Northern Ireland, a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown has begun in an effort to curb Covid infection rates that have remained stubbornly high and piled pressure on a creaking health system.
Pubs, restaurants, non-essential retail, gyms and close-contact services such as hairdressers and beauty salons closed on Friday until 11 December, mirroring many restrictions that will cover 99% of England’s population from next week.
Indoor household visits have been banned in Northern Ireland since 22 September. Schools remain open and pubs, restaurants and cafes can offer takeaway and delivery services.